Surviving the Grocery Stores

survivingthegrocerystoreOnce upon a time we weren’t so smart with our money. Especially when it came to food shopping. I never made a list, ever. I bought food that I wanted at the time with no foresight into what we were actually going to eat. We spent a lot and threw away most of it.

Further on down the road, still no regard for expenses, I was buying whatever looked good at the store and still throwing out a ton of food that spoiled before we even ate it. Except this time it was for a family of four instead of just for a newly married couple. One day after doing the bills, Jeff said to me “we can’t do this anymore, we spend 1000 to 1200 dollars a month on food!” Talk about an aha moment. I felt so guilty since I was the one doing the food shopping.

I immediately started trying to figure out how to cut costs and get the food spending under control. I went through denial, “that’s just what food costs babe!” Then a weird coupon phase after watching that Extreme Couponing show on TLC. Followed by a whole bunch of things that were just time consuming and discouraging. I’ll spare you all my legwork and just talk about what finally actually worked.

Track It

Sit down and figure out exactly what you’re buying and what you’re using. What are you not using? What are you running out of? What do you need to have in your house all the time? This should take place over at least a month or two, so you can really get a good picture of where your money is going. Make sure to include household items like paper products, sponges, cleaning supplies, and personal items like soap, shampoo, diapers and wipes. Also keep your receipts for later.

Meal Plan

Honestly, I’m horrible at this. When Jeff first suggested it all I could think was “how on earth am I supposed to know on Saturday what I’m going to want for lunch next Thursday??” Some people are meal plan masters, and have their whole week (or two) planned out before they even go shopping.

I like a little spontaneity in my meals. When I meal plan, I figure out how many days I’m planning for (usually two weeks due to my work schedule) and then bang out one breakfast lunch and dinner for each day. Then I keep that list and cross off what I’ve made as we go through the week.

Its better to have a general idea of what you’re going to eat than to just buy what looks good in the store at the time, OR to be spending money a few times a week on ingredients for something that you thought you have but don’t. Because who buys JUST the one thing they go into a store for? That’s right, no one.

Master List

The best thing I’ve done is make one master grocery list.

After you’ve tracked what you’re buying and using, make a list of what you routinely use every single week. Type it up and save it in a document you can print for every trip. This is what mine looks like. Honestly it could use an edit because a lot of things on here we don’t use much anymore like hot dogs and chocolate syrup. Feel free to tweak it to for your own needs and print it out:

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This is where you fill out what you need for the meals you’ve planned, plus anything else you need for the household (duh right?). I print mine out and stick it right on the fridge so as we run out of something, I just hi-light the item on the list. Or, if I bought something that I’m not going to rebuy the next time I go shopping (like cleaning supplies, toothpaste, things that generally last a while), I can cross it off the next trip’s list to avoid buying multiples of things (like the month where we had three maple syrups in the pantry). This saves me a ton of time the day BEFORE grocery day too, because the list is usually half filled out.

Tweak It

This is where your saved receipts come in. On an otherwise blank list, write down the prices of the items you consistently buy and shop around. How much are the same items at another store. Is your usual grocery store the best value? If not, switch!

I was shopping at WalMart, thinking I was saving a ton of money over regular stores. Then I brought my list to the discount grocery store Aldi. I was shocked. Changing stores saved me HUNDREDS of dollars.

Check out the difference between the two stores on this simple shopping list:

WalMart:
12 Eggs $1.88
Gallon Milk 2.85
White Bread 2.78
Cereal 2.97
Peanut Butter 3.32
Jelly 2.50
Chips 2.48
Juice 2.98
Bag of Apples 2.94
4 Pack Toilet Paper 2.28

Total: $29.98

Aldi:
12 Eggs $ .59
Gallon Milk 2.29
White Bread 1.89
Cereal 1.29
Peanut Butter 1.49
Jelly 1.29
Chips 1.49
Juice 1.79
Bag of Apples 2.89
4 Pack Toilet Paper 1.99

Total: $17.00

Pretty significant difference.

The ‘Tweak It’ stage should be ongoing. Example: for a while, cheese was cheaper at Walmart than Aldi so I was buying it there (since I still go to two stores to get everything we need). Then this spring, I noticed it changed and the price of cheese at Aldi dropped significantly. Pay attention to the prices you pay for items you buy frequently because they do change.

So this is basically my process in taking charge of our monthly food budget. Currently with the 5 of us I keep it at $650. I’m pretty proud of this number since I wrestled it down from $1200. The food spending used to sink us, but now I plan for it and we have $550 extra every month!

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7 Things You Can Do to Save Money This Week!

Paying off debt and taking over your finances is a lot of work and sometimes, it can take a while to see a payoff. But a lot of us are short on cash NOW and need to make changes right away to even survive the month. Others need instant gratification to get motivated.

Here’s a couple of things you can do right NOW to stretch this week’s paycheck.

Cut Your Cable Bill

Utilities are a killer, but if you rank them from most to least important, cable is on the bottom in my opinion.

As long as you’re not locked into a “bundle” plan where it will cost an arm and a leg to change your package, call your provider and drop your package by a tier or two.

Check out the differences in package price from Comcast:

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Dropping your package by even one tier could save $10/month ($1200/year). Dropping to the lowest package could save you up to $54!

Cancel a Subscription

After my first two babies I used Weight Watchers to lose the extra weight. The app on my phone was so convenient, but also $20 a month. Now that Ben is six months old, I’m back on Weight Watchers, but I’m using an old school book and slider system that an old friend gave me and still losing weight just as fast.

There are a million subscription services now. TV ones like Hulu, food delivery ones Like HelloFresh, product ones like Birch Box, Bark Box, the list goes on and on. Nothing against any of these services, I even used to subscribe to Citrus Lane in my more frivolous days, but if you’re seriously strapped for cash, using savings or credit cards to pay for necessities, this is something you can easily cut without a huge change in lifestyle.

Picture a bucket full of holes and you trying to keep as much water in as possible. The holes are your bills and debts and the water is your hard earned money. The object is to plug as many holes in the bucket as possible. You do this by cutting unnecessary spending and using this extra money to pay off debts.

Return Something

A month or so ago I bought three oval picture frames that I was *convinced* I was going to use. Whelp they sat on top of the dryer for weeks. This month I was going to cut it close on our grocery budget and had to drum up some extra funds. Good thing I remembered those frames! I returned them (without a receipt even), put $17 back in our account and two nights worth of suppers in the freezer.

Just because you’ve bought something doesn’t mean you have to keep it forever. If you have a relatively recent purchase and are running short on cash, return it!

If you don’t…

Sell or Consign Something

I do this all the time with old kids clothes and toys. Find a consignment shop or a pawn shop that pays cash up front (instead of waiting until they sell the item). My favorite is The Children’s Orchard. A lot of places will give you a cash offer on the item and offer you a certain percent more if you agree to take store credit instead. This is how you can walk into a store with a box of old clothes and walk out with new items without even opening your wallet! OR, how you walk out of a store with more cash than you had when you went in.

For other types of items, sell it directly to a cash buyer. This has gotten so easy in the world of Craig’s List and Facebook yard sale communities. Just always make sure to watch out for yourself and make the actual sale in a safe place. Find a Safe Deal Zone near you. None close? Arrange to meet in the parking lot of a local police station.

Sell a Service

Use your spare time for spare cash. My best friend drives for Uber at night or on weekends if she needs to make ends meet. Jeff helps people fix their websites on Coppermine. You even get paid to do people’s grocery shopping and deliver the groceries with Instacart. I make crochet items and sell them. You can babysit, walk dogs or do housework for other people on Care.com or privately for people you know. Play to your strengths and interests.

Fast Food Challenge

This is one of our favorites for really tightening the budget. The challenge is not to eat any food that isn’t groceries. No coffee drive through, no lunch in the caf at work, no vending machines, pizza delivery, restaurants. Nada. Framing it like a “Challenge” in your mind and getting your partner on board is more motivating than just saying “oh boy, bagged lunch all week.”

To help resist temptation, I leave my debit card at home when I leave the house. Its just too tempting to get an iced coffee on the way to work and then cruise down to the cafeteria if the morning is slow or the lunch I packed isn’t interesting enough.

Just Don’t

Just don’t go to Target if that’s your weakness (it’s mine). Just don’t go along to the mall with your friends if you KNOW you can’t resist. Don’t cruise the clearance section looking to justify spending with “but it’s on clearance!” Don’t check your favorite deal sites (mine is Zulily. Love it.).

Take a walk instead. Or go to the library and borrow the book you were going to buy (they lend movies and TV series too). Take your kids to the local playground instead of some place that charges admission like a zoo or themed park.

What Do You NEED Really?

So commonly we hear people say it. They can’t pay bills because they can’t afford it. They don’t fill their medications because they don’t have the money. This is such a cop out. And I used to use it all the time.  The truth is, almost any budget has some wiggle room.

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There’s a huge wage gap in this country which is such an injustice. As unfair as it is though, it’s still a fact we have to live with until changes are made nationwide to fix it.

The first thing we did as a family to start taking control of our finances was to identify things we definitely need and things we can live with out. This came with a healthy dose of was really hard to deal with at first.

What do you NEED?

Spoiler alert: it’s a lot less than you might think. You need (for real):

  • Nutritious food
  • Water
  • Housing
  • Power and water
  • Clothing
  • Transportation
  • Toiletries
  • Communication

That’s basically it. When you really think about it, people need very little to survive and be relatively comfortable. Notice some things that are not on this list.

-Vices

I don’t know about you, but cigarettes in my state are outrageous. After high school, I worked at a convenience store with a gas station attached. Then, a pack of good cigarettes was $5.15. Now, they’re over $10. March that math out. If you smoke a pack a day, that’s $70 per week, $280 per month. That’s enough to buy a nice car, which is exactly what Jeff did when he quit his 2 pack a day habit a few years ago. Plus, smoking is TERRIBLE for you, even in the short term. No judgement here, just pure finance.

Need motivation? Get a free cigarette tracking app for your phone like Get Rich or Die Smoking so show yourself exactly how much you save buy cutting out even a few cigarettes per day at first.

-iPhone 27, Unlimited Data with a 3D Camera that HASNT EVEN COME OUT YET!

The list says communication. You need a way to communicate with friends and family, make kid’s doctors appointments, call for help in emergencies etc. You DON’T need Internet wherever you go. You DON’T need to be able to update Facebook at your every convenience. You DON’T need the best and newest device you can get your hands on. All of these things are status symbols created by people looking to make a lot of money.

One of the first major things we eliminated from our swollen budget was our cell phone plans. Jeff still has his work phone at no cost to us, and I bought a $10 flip phone with prepaid minutes that I spend $20 on every three months. This was such a major savings, almost $2,500/ year. But also a major trauma. I loved my iPhone. The first month maybe was tough, but honestly now I don’t miss it. I kept my phone which can still text through apps like iMessage and Google Hangouts, and I can do everything but make phone calls in places that have wifi, which is pretty much everywhere now.

No matter how much you love your gadget, free yourself from the status symbols, because you don’t need them.

– A Brow Game on Fleek with Fresh Acrylics

I’m calling out the ladies here but the guys are just as bad.

Basic toiletries are necessary. Even a simple make up routine. But you DON’T need biweekly professional beauty services and a vanity full of designer make up. I’m not saying that if these things are extremely important to you that you should let your image go down the toilet, but you shouldnt be spending money on fingernails that needs to be going towards one of the essentials, like housing or paying off one of your credit cards.

There’s a bazillion hours worth of YouTube videos you can use to learn to do these things yourself. Not confident? Track down a technical school with a cosmo program that will only charge for products.

– 2018 Gas Guzzler with TV’s in the Seats

Everyone needs reliable transportation. This doesn’t mean a brand new SUV for a single person. New vehicles are another status symbol and a huge rip off. A pre-loved, slightly older, solid transportation vehicle may not be a parking lot stunner but can save you tons of cash, from insurance costs to excise tax and loan interest.

For some people who live in places where it’s available, transportation could mean a bus pass. Then think of everything you’d save on gas, maintenance and insurance. Oh the savings!

One more thing, if you live in a snowy area like we do, “it’s great in the snow” is no reason to blow $30G on a new SUV. I’ve driven in 13 years of Northeastern winters in a compact sedan and haven’t been stranded yet.

-Jam Packed Walk-Ins

This is coming from a girl that once had not one but two credit cards handed back to her for insufficient funds at the checkout at Marshalls.

Of course you need clothing that fits and is in good condition that you like. But you don’t need closets full of clothes and shoes you never wore. Go on Pinterest and search for “Capsule Wardrobe.” Need something new? Hit up a consignment shop for big discounts. Bonus points: gather up some of the clothes you’ve never worn and consign them for store credit to shop for free!

-1500+ Channels

This is our latest project. We’re currently exploring new more affordable TV options. Currently we have a satellite dish that costs $70/month even though we have the most limited package. Most likely we’ll be switching to a small antenna for PBS (mommy needs the kids to have Wild Kratts), and some new PlayStation tv thing they’re offering. Antenna has an upfront cost for the antenna only and the smallest PlayStation package is about $30/ month. I’ll post more info about this when we make the leap.

Too traumatic? Baby step: Reduce your current tv package by one tier.

-A Cookie Cutter Center Hall  Colonial with all Granite and Stainless

HGTV sure is great isnt it? With all of those totally unrealistic expectations it can forge in the imagination such as “even if we go over budget, it’s only a few more dollars a month, we can afford that!” No. You can’t. And honestly, you don’t even want to.

If you’re looking for new housing, be realistic about what you can afford and then reduce it even more. No one needs five bedrooms and six baths. Don’t shackle yourself to a mortgage  you’ll have to work your fanny off to even stay current on. There is such a thing as being “house poor.” Find comfortable and safe housing until you’ve accomplished all of your other financial goals.

-A Large Almond Joy Iced with Almond Milk

That’s my Dunkin’ Donuts order. And one of my major vices. Fast food, restaurants and pizza delivery will kill your financial goals. Don’t believe it? Look back in your bank statement and add up how much you spent last month on food other than groceries. It’s a lot right? To underscore this even more, last year I gave up ALL food items that weren’t groceries for two months (no iced coffee and a bagel, no Happy Meals for the kids, no lunch in the cafeteria at work) and bought a new couch for the living room with the money I saved.

I’m also working on a post about how to save on groceries that I’m really excited about. We went from $1000-1200/ month on groceries to $650.

Taking control of your finances means that you realize that financial freedom is not a credit card to pay for your new phone and handbag. So many things we think we need are dragging us down. Take some time and do the soul searching to see what you really NEED and what you can get rid of. And free yourself from the status symbols because you don’t need ’em. ✌🏼️

A Resolution worth Keeping

 

Two years ago, we were the average American family. Two kids, a mortgage, thousands in credit card debt, student loans coming out of our ears and more.

New Year’s Eve 2013, my husband and I decided that we would take our finances over, make a budget, live within our means, work to pay down debt until we’re debt free.

We still have a long way to go but we’ve come so far! Here we hope to share our story, tips and tricks, to help out others who are where we were that New Year’s night.

Come along!